BLOG: GPS for Your Plane?
Goodbye radar. Hello GPS. The Federal Aviation Administration will soon start testing a new way to navigate the friendly skies and we got a sneak peak in Seattle this week.
Alaska Airlines took us into a flight simulator near the Seattle-Tacoma Airport. Pilot Mike Adams showed me how global positioning satellites can be used to track planes in flight and guide them down to the runway more precisely than with the 60-year-old radar system.
The Nextgen system will allow planes to safely fly closer together than they do now. Runway approaches will be more direct and use a different technique than the step-down method employed for decades. Passengers will feel a plane almost coasting as if sliding down a banister instead of a series of drops followed by acceleration.
Alaska Airlines is partnering with the FAA to test the system at Sea-Tac starting in June. If it works as planned, Nextgen could be employed at every airport in the U.S. within 5-10 years.
But it’s not cheap. It costs the airlines $340,000 to equip each plane. The cost to taxpayers could run $42-billion. That’s how much it’s estimated to outfit every airport. But FAA officials tell me it will be worth every penny. Airlines will save millions of dollars on fuel a year and passengers will be able to spend less time in those cramped airplane seats.